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In 2008, a group of early childhood educators attending the World Forum for Early Childhood Care and Education were discussing the obstacles that keep many children from experiencing the simple (and fun) act of playing in mud: lack of access to extra clothes that can get dirty; proper cleaning supplies and water; dry, sandy land not conducive to mud-making; and even cultural barriers related to cleanliness.

LISTEN: “International Mud Day: A Messy Celebration of the Earth”

One of those educators was Gillian McAuliffe. When she returned to her school in Perth, Australia, she shared the problem with a group of her students. They decided to raise money to buy extra play clothes for kids in an orphanage in Nepal so that they could all play in the mud “together.”

Now, every year on June 29th, International Mud Day celebrations happen all over the world as a way to connect children to the Earth and soil, and discover the messy joy that is comes from playing in and with mud.

The Ithaca Children’s Garden in New York has been hosting a Mud Day celebration for the past six years. They fill their Hands-on-Nature Anarchy Zone with some high-quality soil and call in the volunteer fire department to hose it down. Within minutes, a giant mud pool complete with slides and rope swings is created. In other parts of the garden, participants make mud art and of course mud pies.

WATCH: International Mud Day at the Ithaca Children’s Garden

But there’s more to mud besides just the fun. Research shows getting dirty can be good for you.

Dirt contains a microscopic bacteria called Mycobacterium vaccae (M. vacca) that can boost the immune system. Studies have shown that children who are exposed to it early in life develop better immune tolerance to things like asthma and allergies. M. vacca can also trigger the release of serotonin in the brain, which in turn lowers stress levels and regulates mood. So, mud can make you healthy and happy.

That’s reason enough to go play in it.

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